Latin American Pentecostalisms and Western Postmodernism

Article excerpt

Reflections on a complex relationship

The speed of change in the world over the last few decades has been echoed by an equally rapid transformation on the religious scene in Latin America. The two processes are related to each other and affect each other in some respects, although they are completely independent in others. The religious component of Latin American identity is so much part of social identity that any change in social relations or behaviour is directly reflected in the field of religion.

In this article, I would like to share some reflections on the role played by the different forms of Pentecostalism in Latin America and the current general processes of change that are generally grouped under the heading "postmodernism ". I shall try to show how Pentecostalisms interact with postmodernism and highlight the role they play now, and will play, in our societies in the coming years.

1. "Latin America", "Pentecostalism" and "postmodernism"

None of the three elements that I shall try to bring together in this article is easy to define. They are very controversial phenomena, vague in outline and highly complex. Let me, therefore, briefly present my understanding of what they mean. I shall confine myself to the aspects that I want to highlight in these reflections, so that we have a clear frame of reference for our theses.

1.1 Latin America

Latin America is a fragmented and contradictory reality. The processes of conquest, colonization and conversion to Christianity undertaken by Spain and Portugal in America between the 16th and 19th centuries stamped certain identifiable, homogenous features on it. The most important of these are: a complex love-hate relationship with Latin Europe, Spanish as a common language (with the exception of Portuguese in Brazil) and the Catholic religion. Despite these unifying aspects, extremely different regional and national characteristics persisted and continued to develop, giving the continent its present heterogeneity.

The multiple American cultures continued to exist even after their clash with the Europeans, although their vitality differed. Their presence in various American countries is still very strong, for example in Guatemala, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. There is no doubt that they represent an essential component of American identities. African cultures also make a rich contribution to these identities, especially in Brazil, Central America and the Caribbean. Successive waves of European and Asian migration also further enriched the American cultural and religious picture. (1) So when reflecting on Latin America, we need to consider this diversity in order to avoid the generalizations and cliches that so often detract from the value of comments on this subject. Latin America is a complex group of cultures and heterogeneous contexts and not a single unit.

1.2 Latin American Pentecostalism

Latin American Pentecostalism is likewise a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. It has been variously described (and dismissed) as "a movement", "an explosion", "an invasion", "a sect", amongst other things. All these are probably accurate descriptions of some groups of Pentecostalism, but they are only partial or, at least, inconsistent, if the groups and specific contexts in which they operate are not clearly defined. The expressions of Pentecostalism are so varied (and at times contradictory) that, to do justice to this diversity, it would perhaps be better to refer to them as "Pentecostalisms ". These differences can be observed in doctrine, liturgy, the socio-cultural location of their communities, politics, church organization, to mention only the most important aspects. The causes of this variety are mainly to be found in the same continental heterogeneity mentioned above, in the diverse origins of the communities (foreign missions, indigenous movements, internal divisions, etc.), the degree of instit utional development, types of leadership, religious influences, etc. …